Week Links #6

There was so much good stuff to read this week, and unfortunately so little time. There was also much to write about, such as the SBC resolution regarding mental illness. Hopefully next week. But for now…. a few things I did get a chance to read, and would recommend to others.

Women’s Words

Sarah Bessey: In Which God Has Asked Too Much of Us

and again, because why not? Sarah Bessey: In Which I Preach

Social Justice

Melissa Barnhart for the Christian Post: Suicide, Mental Health at Forefront of SBC Annual Meeting

Karen Beattie: Seven Things I’ve Learned About Foster Care

Words for Thought

Mark Sandlin: Ten Things You Can’t Do While Following Jesus

Larry Alex Taunton: Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity

Jesse Carey: Christians, Their Media Portrayal & Myth

Rachel Held Evans: Love Opens the Door: A Plea to American Churches Regarding Gay Scouts

My Stuff

And because today is graduation day: The Child I’ve Grown Up With

Guest Post: Politics of Love

This has been a crazy week for me. My oldest graduates from high school tomorrow, and I am a mess of logistics and tears. Writing has not been possible, other than grocery- and to-do lists. Turns out, though, that today I would rather share words someone else has written. Words that I find so true, and that, to me, are in accord with the red letters.

This post is from Andrew Hanauer (yes, my husband, but also a freelance writer and human rights ninja). You can find his blog here.

A POLITICS OF LOVE

In 2006, when Americans were asked their opinion of George W. Bush’s massively illegal NSA spying program, 75% of Republicans said they supported it while only 37% of Democrats agreed.  Today, after it was revealed that President Obama is overseeing a nominally legal but largely similar surveillance program, only 52% of Republicans express support for it, while a stunning 64% of Democrats agree.

In other words, Americans, in large numbers, care more about the (D) or (R) next to the President’s name than they do about what the President does.  And that is deeply disturbing.

There is plenty of blame for this to go around.  The right-wing echo chamber that defended President Bush with a vigor matched only by its hatred for President Obama.  The wing of the Democratic Party that is convinced that Barack Obama is special and different and that his words have meaning even as he breaks promise after promise.  The media that focuses incessantly on the partisan sniping in Washington and ignores the larger truth – that the two parties largely both support a system of corporate and military power at the expense of the vast majority of the world’s people – and thus propagates this system in which Americans yell and scream at each other over which corporate-owned party should be in power.

The great tragedy of the Obama administration (for those of us lucky enough to use that word in the sense that I mean it, and not in the context of our children being shot by drones) is that it has not only furthered and deepened some of the most disturbing policies of the Bush administration, but that it has also deadened opposition to those policies by connecting them to the smiling face of a supposedly progressive leader.  And now we not only are stuck with these dangerous policies, with a President who believes he has the right to kill an American citizen without trial, but we are left with meaningful opposition only from the libertarian Right and apparently the 36% of Democrats who don’t think Barack Obama is a deity.

This is the danger of the Church of The-Lesser-Of-Two-Evils.  This is what happens when we stop trying to create the world we want our children to live in and settle for hoping that the leader who seems less willing to destroy that future will beat the other guy.  For years, we have been told we have to vote Democrat, give our money to Democrats, knock on doors for Democrats, argue with our relatives about how great the Democrats are, all because the alternative is so much worse.  The realization that what we are experiencing now is a slow death – through climate change, Wall-Street bailouts, and the erosion of the rule of law – rather than the dreaded quick death of Republican rule is what has prompted me to leave the Democratic Party.

It’s a relief, honestly.  I feel a little bit freer for the lack of attachment to an institution that is not worthy of the hopes and dreams I have for our country.

Inevitably the question then becomes: but what if your vote is the difference?   Yes, I will vote for the lesser of two evils if I have to.

But this is about so much more than voting.  Voting is a civic duty, but it should be merely a small piece of the work we do to improve our community, our country, and the world.  Our contribution to the struggle for human rights and social justice is not defined by who we vote for.  Throughout history, change has almost always come through the hard work of building credible movements and institutions, of pushing from the outside until those on the inside are forced to make changes, of envisioning change and then demanding that it come about, rather than hoping it is given to you by the lesser of two evils.

Inevitably the question then becomes: what do we attach ourselves to instead?

Good question.

Given everything that is going on in the world, it’s easy to just stand outside and yell in anger.  There is a lot to be angry about.

I think, however, that for that anger to make any sense, it has to be traced back to the love that exists at its roots.  We are angry at the perpetrators of the financial meltdown because we love the families who were illegally foreclosed upon.  We are angry about the drone program because we love the innocent people victimized by it and we love the concept of a foreign policy that is predicated on peace and not militarism.  We are angry about wiretapping because we love the concept of a country in which civil liberties are protected and government is open and accountable.  Without this love, the anger leaves us as participants in a pointless competition, in which each “side” tries to “win” and is angered at the other side’s actions.  The pointlessness of that game as it plays out in the United States is made clear by the realization that, much like Oceania and its opponents in Orwell’s 1984, the two “sides” are really two halves of the same system.  And it is that system that needs to change.

Which brings us to what I call “A Politics of Love.”  If we are going to change that system, we have to remove ourselves entirely from the Democrat/Republican debate and start with a positive vision for the country and for the world.  We have to invite everybody to contribute to that vision, even if we don’t agree with them on every issue, and we need to push our politicians to make laws that help make that vision a reality.   This concept is not about singing Kumbaya and pretending that the corporations and politicians who profit from the corruption of the current system can be engaged in meaningful dialogue.  On the contrary, the change we need in this country will come only through the force of our will, through determination, through a clear-eyed understanding of what we are up against.  It will come through a lot of hard work.  But it will only come through love.  And if we are to transform the world through love, we first have to stop identifying ourselves by party and start identifying ourselves as members of a universal human family, particularly when the party with which we have been identifying is so demonstrably unworthy of our allegiance.

When Howard Dean said that “rednecks driving pickup trucks with confederate flags on the back should vote for me because their kids need health insurance, too,” he simultaneously intentionally and unintentionally illustrated how important this concept of politics is.  Yes, we need to start a movement that recognizes shared values and human rights, that reaches across racial, ideological, and geographic divides and challenges the status quo.  And no, obviously, calling people “rednecks” is not the best way to do that.  But what Dean was getting at is that the forces that create inequity in our health care system are not the same as the people voting for politicians who uphold and deepen that inequity.  That’s an important concept, and, perhaps just as importantly, given the policy record of Democrats, those so-called rednecks aren’t the only ones voting for politicians who wreak havoc on the poor and vulnerable.

In the coming days, I will be writing more about what a Politics of Love looks like.  In the meantime, I am doing my part by removing myself from the false partisan dichotomy that leads a country to change its mind about the violation of its civil liberties simply because the President authorizing the violation has a different letter next to his name.

That (D) is no longer magical to me.  It is, after all, of little comfort to the victims of American militarism, or to the Palestinians, or to the Congolese.  It is of little consequence to ice caps determined to melt.  It is not a holy symbol, not a badge of anything of particular value.

It is just another tool of division at a time when the 99.99999% of the world’s people opposed to the status quo need unity more than ever.

As Wedding Season Begins, Thoughts for the Young Ones

As the invitations to this summer’s weddings roll in, I’ve noticed that I get more sentimental with each one. I get a little teary, even, especially when the bride and groom are especially young, or so in love that the raw and bright emotion radiating from them is blinding.

Reasons become clear and half-formed thoughts come to fruition in my magical rocking chair, and today was no different. I sat and rocked the baby, thinking of weddings, and realized that my sentimentality is rooted in joy, for obvious reasons, as well as something bittersweet, because while marriage itself is wonderful, it is also a marker of a changing life tide. Life will progress in much the same way for everyone regardless of marital status, but in marriage, just as the triumphs are shared, so too are the trials.

Marriage marks the last time one can focus solely on self, the last time chores will be done with only one person’s preference in mind. The last time it’s okay to wash only your own socks without considering the sock needs of another. The last time you can collapse into an exhausted heap at 6pm without feeling the need to explain. The last time finances are relatively uncomplicated, and that it’s okay to consider only one travel option for holiday plans. The last time you can throw up your hands and say “enough is enough,” open the door, and walk away without spending $10,000 in the process.

Lives being bound together in marriage typically begin carefree and beautiful, marked with amazing seasons of joy — wedding, honeymoon, job, house, perhaps pregnancy and beautiful children. But as the joys come in clusters, so too do the sorrows. Arguments over nothing and everything. Misunderstandings of unbelievable proportions. A child lost, a parent aged, a house foreclosed, bills mounting. And as we all know, while we tend to take our triumphs lightly, we are hit full force by trials, and after marriage that force will be felt times two.

Chores once done in love will become harbingers of resentment. If there are children of any age in your union, sleep once taken for granted will be a much fought-for commodity. Bodies will become marked by pregnancy, childbirth, lost sleep, and the inevitable stress of life.

Part of me wants my children to get married young — getting married and having children tends to bring out in people all the good things their parents taught them. They return to how they were raised, and shed many of the habits that need shedding. Part of me wants my children to marry later in life, so they can know more fully who they are, live a bit, and put off this marker of change.

I already know that when I talk to my children of love and marriage, they will smile and nod when I tell them they can’t live off love. That they will need a firmer foundation than that to build a marriage on. As I prattle on, they will be feel certain that they will be different, stronger, better. They will say that they know of the hardships and sleepless nights they will face, but they will never lose sight of love and passion. That they will never argue over selfish things, or fight over holiday plans, or worry about money because that is just so unimportant in the face of glorious love. As they smile and nod at their mom’s incessant ramblings, they will know with all their heart that the little fights they have during courtship will never grow larger, or will somehow resolve or become unimportant once they are under the same roof.

And maybe they will be right.

But when the time is right, I will try to explain, so they will be prepared, that someday soon love will be measured by how many times he got up with the baby last night,

or how many times she let you eat first.

That there will be fights over 15-minute increments of sleep, whose computer time is more important on any given day, and who left the bedroom light on, again, when no one was in the room. In these moments, you must remember you are on the same team, that your spouse has only good intentions. That your spouse is human and imperfect, just like you are.

You will be too tired, on occasion, to feel the things you felt on your honeymoon. You will also get tired of eating only broccoli because there’s no other vegetable you both like.

You will not understand how no one else can see that improperly loading the dishwasher is a divorce-worthy character flaw.

You will, occasionally, not ever want to see your beloved’s face again.

And that’s normal, I will tell them, but you have to have a plan. Otherwise, the bright and shiny thing held early in marriage will tarnish and fade.

Your plan should include not buying into the notion that you will be different. Stronger. Better. You won’t be. You will instead be awful, and selfish, and wonderful and horrible all mashed up together, and you will need to know how to draw the wonderful out of that big tangled ball. Your plan should include realizing that your marriage is just the first of many expositions, but there is only one resolution: each other. You have, as my Aunt Lucy would say, moved beyond “playing house,” to where that option from before — the one where you walk out the door — is no longer available. Marriage is the tie that binds as the waves of joy and sorrow and passion and stress wash over you and it would be easier to just give up, think only of self, run away.

As you and your partner discuss this, start detailing your plan. Discuss children, money, religion, politics, job goals and theories on parenting (and trust me, I will have much, much more to say to my children about parenting). Start talking about how you would handle it if date night happened only once every six months, and that that date night might just be 20 minutes in front of a movie while someone else holds the baby. Or maybe a drive in the minivan to drop off food for a friend. Discuss what you will do when your spouse feels down on life and you’re bursting at the seams with happiness. Hopefully you will address these issues in premarital counseling. If you do, and you realize there are just too many differences to move forward, than by all means, don’t.

But if you discuss it and plan it and realize you want to move forward together anyway…. well, there’s not much else in life that is sexier or more romantic than that.

The Untouched

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
(Isaiah 49:15-16)

My youngest loves to touch and be touched. He needs it to grow, to find his place in the world.

His daddy walks in and Aaron squeals. Propels himself forward like someone is trying to light his diaper on fire. Andy scoops him, and Aaron pats every part of his daddy’s face, his hair, especially his stubbly cheeks. They nuzzle and wiggle in tight for a big baby-hug.

When Aaron needs to know he’s okay, he’ll crawl, 90-to-nothing, to where I am. Pat my shoe, wobble his arms in the general vicinity of “up.” I swing him high and he laughs and laughs, touches my face to say hello or I love you or whatever happy thing he feels.

Aaron and Mama = love

Aaron flaps like a crazed chicken when he sees Nana. She kisses his nose, and Aaron throws his little half-way arms around her neck and smiles because he knows she’s silly. After a few Nana-minutes, Aaron will ask for my arms, do a quick mama check, then reach for the floor so he can hug the dog.

Aaron and Winston

It’s beyond sweet.

Aaron MUST do this. He would wilt without it, become sickly and sad. Touch is his love language, how he delights in existence. He must touch, be touched, check in, pat my shoe, love my face, hug me tight.

He is this way because that’s how he was born, not because that’s how we made him. And this breaks my heart.

Not because of Aaron, but because there are babies—babies upon babies upon babies— just like him. But they don’t get touched. And the thought of babies with half-extended wobbly arms not being embraced, or worse, being yelled at, abandoned, unappreciated, unsqueezed — hurt — is soul-killing. Babies and toddlers and latent-stagers and teens whose parents never learn the language of their children. Have no desire to. Maybe simply can’t.

Just as Aaron doesn’t know a world without emphatic love, these babies know nothing other than angry words, angry hands, neglected arms. It breaks them, then becomes their normal.

Sydney,

I never thought it was funny
when you told people to fuck off,
your fingers high in the air,
legs barely long enough
to reach the ground.

I knew you when
you were in your mother’s womb,
small and clean.

I tried to take you after she forgot
to come the third day
in a row,
but I found her

in a bar,
prolonged smoke break,
fresh hole in her arm.
She needed some time,
she said.

I wonder if you still live
off Cheerios and fumes.

We both cried
the day I picked dirt and makeup
from under your nails,

cried harder when I took the glitter off
and turned your hair
to taffy.
You flailed at the mirror-child;

I held tight and pretended
not to notice your bones.

A Day Like Any Other

Despite the fact that I have had 364 days to prepare, today still caught me by surprise.

The hours passed, chasing fairy wings, crying over mismatched clothes and sand-filled shoes. Knowingknowingknowing that I should enjoy every bit of the 45 minutes it took to walk 10 feet, remove every “hurry” from my mouth.

The fairy princess waltzed across the grass, owned the world around her, asked to walk up the big stairs by herself.

IHobo Fairy Princess

I thought of the day they’ll all be gone. Because they will.

Jamie and Collin 1996, then 2012

I yearned for a bigger pocket, a bigger purse, a bigger heart to carry them in.

2012 Christmas Eve Twas the Night Before Christmas

I shattered when the little one patted my hair, my face. Placed sticky fingers against my cheeks, hugged me with spit-up covered arms.

Shattered again at bad news from my oldest, and again when listening to Oklahoma funeral plans.

Put myself back together with shoestrings and Silly-Putty when the fairy princess belted out the blessing for the entire restaurant to hear:

God is great.
God is good.

A ketchup-covered french fry halfway to her mouth

Let us thank Him
For our food.

So be it.

Why We Cancelled Mother’s Day

Now that Mother’s Day has come and gone, my household can finally celebrate it.

(The official) Mother’s Day dawned bright and early in our house and quickly became a mad scramble to get 6 people out the door for brunch. Mad scramble + emotional overload (see below) caused me to have a migraine. Migraine + necessity of being present at my own brunch caused me to take slightly more migraine medicine than normal, which worked just a teensy bit too well: Andy asked me at one point if he should wear jeans or pants; I believe my response was “shorts.” So the baby and I stayed home while everyone else went to brunch.

I think this alone suffices to explain why we decided not to celebrate, so I will leave out the parts about tetherball injuries, last-minute school projects, tantruming 3-year-olds, missing church, and arguments over the perfect family photo. But really, this is all pretty normal stuff. I think the real reason that Mother’s Day weekend was a bust was the even heavier than normal emotional load that came with it this year.

On Friday I wrote a piece about my son, Jeremy. I wasn’t sure if I would actually post it or not, but I knew I had to write it. As my husband wisely said, “writing it is at least 50% of the importance.” But then I decided, after much prayer, to actually post what I had written. The outpouring of love and support in response was phenomenal. With this outpouring, my entire world shifted: it became larger, better, less lonely than it was before. This is a good thing, of course, but sometimes even good emotions can be… exhausting.

But time moves on, emotional tides recede, and mothers must be celebrated. So, this Sunday, we will try a redo. I expect presents, quiet time, and coffee. These things will, of course, have to be sandwiched between tuxedo shopping for prom and getting six people out the door for church, but I am so, so excited to do those things in a world with less sadness, less pain, and much, much more love.

2013.5 Mother's Day Take 2

2013.5 Mother's Day

My lovely babies and I just couldn’t get it quite right. But they are still cute. : )

The Places Where We Are Nothing

I’m not a very judgmental person. Really, I’m not.

I typically understand that everyone has something going on in life that is causing a deep emotion—whether good or bad—within them that will occasionally render them rude, inconsiderate, oblivious, or all of the above, among other things. So when someone cuts in front of me, goes through the express lane with $300 worth of groceries, or otherwise commits one of life’s standard offenses, I shrug it off. (Not always, but usually.) This is true whether the person is friend, stranger, or relative. The only person who doesn’t make this list is my husband.

I am grateful—dare I say proud—that I don’t get upset easily and tend in general to be a patient and understanding person. My family of origin is made up of yellers and quick tempers. It took a while to shake that off, but I did it. These days it takes a lot to push my buttons, and once pushed, my anger isn’t even that bad. Unless my husband is the button pusher.

Let me be clear: this is not because my husband is one of those sitcom-type men who can’t figure out how to work the toaster. My husband is wonderful. He works, he parents, he plays, and he is the best writer I know. He is far more accepting of my faults than I am of his, and he loves me unconditionally.

So the fact that I am harder on him than any other person is something I’ve thought about a lot. And, obviously, have tried to change. I don’t like that I notice and dwell on every common offense committed. That I can’t turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to dirty socks or a snippy comment on a tough day. That I can’t say, like I do for perfect strangers, “it’s okay, I understand you’re under stress right now.” That I am unable to extend easy forgiveness to the love of my life.

I think I’ve finally figured out why this is: I do not recognize, other than intellectually, that we are not the same person. Now, I don’t mean we have an unhealthy co-dependent relationship. Far from it. What I mean is that I assign to him the unhealthy, perfectionist expectations that I place on myself that so many women fall victim to. If I cut someone off on the freeway, I might spend the next hour internally yelling at myself for being so thoughtless. If I say something inconsiderate, I might dwell on it for a week. I berate myself for every thing I should have done better or differently, that “should have” been perfect but wasn’t.

And because we are married, because “husband and wife become one,” I extend unhealthy and unrealistic expectations to my husband that I would never extend to anyone else, other than myself. Realizing the root of the problem won’t make me try any harder to correct it—I already try as hard as I can to “fix” this part of me. This is, of course, a Catch-22. I will feel like an imperfect failure if I can’t change my perfectionist mindset, yet I shouldn’t expect perfection because no one is perfect.

I’ve never believed that intentions are what matter: actions and results are what matter. But there does come a point where we reach the end of our own abilities. Today in church the pastor said that within all of us are places where we know ourselves to be nothing except for the grace of God. I wonder if this is one of my places. I hope not. I want to feel, deeply and sincerely, that the softened (not lowered) expectations I have of others should also apply to my husband and me.

A Common Call for Empathy

My husband wrote a remarkable blog post today,  reflecting on the media’s coverage of the bombing in Boston. In the post, he expresses the need to treat every death, every injustice, every senseless act of violence with the same sadness, despair, and anguish, regardless of the victim/perpetrator’s color, religion, or origin.

I couldn’t agree more.

Sadly, over the last few days it has come to my attention, mostly by clicking links on friends’ FB postings, that not everyone feels the same. One blog post especially comes to mind, in which the author states that she cannot feel the sadness she should feel at seeing the senseless acts of violence of both Sandy Hook and Boston, because the victims are white. She goes on to say that she dislikes this about herself; however, white liberals are to blame because they do not treat the persistent, senseless deaths of minority inner city children or third world children the same as they do white, blonde, American children.

I certainly don’t disagree with her latter point. It is a deep shame, and an enormous blight on America, that we do exactly what she excuses us of: we ignore, play down, shrug off, disengage from the fact that children die every single day in this world from beyond-senseless acts of violence. And that sometimes, sometimes, political acts that America institutes or supports are even responsible for those deaths. But that isn’t what this post is about.

Instead, it’s about the sadness this woman’s post made me feel. Sadness because 1) the author is correct about many things she reports, and 2) because she says she cannot feel sadness over the senseless death of white children unless or until white liberals treat minority deaths with the same outrage they treat the death of white American children.

It is always, always a personal choice how we respond to tragedy. Sometimes we don’t want to alter our response: What if Kermit Gosnell gets the death penalty? Well, I may be against the death penalty (I am!), but I probably won’t shed too many tears if his sentence is one of death. I will pray for his soul, but since I am a broken person myself, it would take a superhuman effort for me to dredge up enough sympathy to feel a whole lot of remorse for him.

But why? A life is a life and a death is a death. Do we respect and value human life or not? If we do–if *I* do–I should care deeply, even about someone who has committed so many horrific acts. If I don’t care deeply, I cannot blame anyone but myself.

My sadness is not aimed at a particular person–I am using this author’s blog post as a jumping off point–but is rather a global sadness that the global “we” cannot feel the sadness and despair that we should over every single senseless act of violence and loss of life, and that we blame that inability to feel on others.

Perhaps we say it’s the fault of white liberals. Or perhaps we say it’s because we cannot feel sympathy for someone who repeatedly commits infanticide. Or it’s because “those people” are Muslim, or live so far away, or because they “choose” to bring violence into their neighborhoods.

But really, if we cannot feel heart wrenching despair over every child lost, it is no one’s fault but our own.

This isn’t to finger point. It is instead to say that we are all fallen, broken individuals in need of grace and a good self-talking to. Forgiveness, love, peace…. these things should be in our lives abundantly, indiscriminately, passionately. I try daily to make that a reality in my life, and it is very, very difficult. I usually fail because I am not superhuman. But we cannot even begin to hope for success if we continue to shift the blame to anyone other than ourselves.

Pretense

Leaving leaning in aside for the moment, a poem.

Pretense

His brother died, pillow-faced and lacking.

Same as: my lungs, veins blue
and mapping.

          La muerta, I told you in the back, smoking,
          kerosene on our fingers.
          In your stuttered English
          you thought my Spanish wrong.

 La muerta, I whispered again.
                        (Your flirtation ended after that.)

Her son, too.
Instead of pleasantries we exchanged

purple-faced stiffness,
white-faced rigor. Cold

disbelief.

Days-old for her,

                                                               eight months on my side

of the table mocking separation.

When first asked

I will be honest:

                   No, he’s not my first.

Later, I will dodge,
bob and weave around it.

Later,
now,
I turn to ‘yes’:
my first,
            my only,

my favorite.